Aluminum or steel? A short guide for choosing the right metal for your application

Aluminum or steel? A short guide for choosing the right metal for your application

Aluminum and steel are two of the most commonly used materials in various industries and applications. Their popularity can be attributed to several key factors that make them highly desirable for different purposes.  

Firstly, both aluminum and steel possess excellent mechanical properties, such as strength, durability, and resistance as well as being highly available and cost-effective materials. However, aluminium has some important advantages over steel: while in the case of aluminium it is possible to increase corrosion resistance through treatments, primarily anodising, only stainless steel has good corrosion resistance. 

Furthermore, both aluminum and steel are highly versatile materials that can be easily manufactured and processed into different shapes and forms. They can be rolled, extruded, cast, and welded, allowing manufacturers to create complex designs and structures. This versatility makes these two metals suitable for a wide range of applications, from construction and infrastructure to automotive, aerospace, and consumer goods.  

While the choice between the two metals depends on the requirement of the specific applications, aluminum possesses its own unique advantages that make it ideal for several cutting-edge applications.

Aluminium or steel? 6 important factors to consider

While the advantages of steel in certain applications are perhaps more widely known, there are several cases where using aluminum is advantageous over steel, including:   

  1. Weight-sensitive applications. Aluminum is significantly lighter than steel, making it ideal for industries where weight reduction is crucial. For example, in the aerospace industry, using aluminum instead of steel in aircraft construction helps improve fuel efficiency and increases payload capacity. In the automotive industry, the choice of aluminium means producing lighter cars and consequently reducing fuel consumption and emissions without compromising safety. Aluminium is also used in components for the dashboard and interior elements, emblems and door frames, providing an elegant and robust solution that does not weigh down the product
  2. Corrosion resistance. In comparison to many other metals, aluminium has good corrosion resistance. This is because aluminium develops a thin oxide layer on its surface when the metal comes in contact with oxygen. This process can also take place “in the factory” through anodising treatment. Thanks to this treatment, it is possible increase the oxide layer thickness for aluminium surfaces designed for outdoor applications (e.g., in façade cladding), or in other applications in challenging contexts, such as use for interior design details in the naval sector.
  3. Electrical conductivity. Aluminum has better electrical conductivity compared to steel.
  4. Formability and versatility. Aluminum is more malleable and easier to work with than steel. It can be easily formed into complex shapes and structures, offering greater design flexibility for applications in many industries, including architecture, interior design, consumer electronics, lightings, and more.
  5. Thermal conductivity. Aluminum exhibits excellent thermal conductivity, which is beneficial in applications where heat dissipation is crucial. For example, aluminium is used to maximise the efficiency of infrared lamps for outdoor application, and to maximise the efficiency of high-power LEDs, which require effective aluminium heat sinks.
  6. Environmental considerations. Aluminum is highly recyclable, with energy savings of up to 95% compared to primary production. It can be recycled multiple times without losing its properties. 

Aluminium vs. steel: breaking down the differences 

The following table shows the advantages of aluminium over steel: aluminium has one third the density of steel and three times the thermal conductivity while still allowing good mechanical characteristics of workability, and corrosion resistance. 

Aluminium or steel? How to choose the right metal for your applications

These examples are just a few of the applications where aluminium offers the ideal solution to the many requirements in terms of aesthetics, performance, safety, and cost reduction. This is by no means an exhaustive list, not least because the high versatility of this material, as well as the still limited knowledge around some of its invaluable qualities, means that many applications have not yet been explored.

This is why it is important to rely on experienced partners who can offer the most efficient solution, whether it is a “standard” application or a more innovative one. Almeco, with over 60 years of experience in aluminium treatment and continuous investment in technology as well as research and development, is able to assist customers in the implementation of their projects. Almeco’s experts assist customers from the early stages of project development, to guide them in choosing the most suitable product for the required application.

Aluminium, some common and unexpected applications

Thanks to this approach, the company has developed unique products for highly innovative applications in several industries, including:

  1. Surfaces for architectural applications. While steel is the preferred material when it comes to the structure of a building, aluminium sheets can be used in façade, wall cladding, false ceilings and panelling for indoor and outdoor applications. In exterior the high surface thickness and the strong oxide layer guarantee the resistance over the long term. The aluminium panels, on the other hand, are more used for interior applications where safety is a main concern, such as airports or restaurants, because of their high fire resistance. Almeco’s bandoxal line offers a high choice of surfaces, optimised for different applications’ needs.
  2. Aluminium surfaces for decorative applications, such as design, interiors, lighting, merchandising and consumer electronics. bxdecor surfaces are ideal for applications that have to combine efficiency to an elegant and appealing design or where the principal need is to seek unique solutions;
  3. High reflective surfaces for many lighting applications: from reflectors for industrial or commercial use to those for offices, urban decor, sports facilities, and street lighting, from floodlights and spotlights to retrofit lighting systems, from reflective blinds to daylighting systems and light pipes. Aluminium is also used to enhance the efficiency of LED lighting systems in many indoor and outdoor applications, such as in offices, sport facilities, street lighting, etc., as well as in applications in the horticultural sector.
  4. High reflective surfaces to manage the infrared radiation, which can be used in infrared lamps for indoor and outdoor heating, for their efficiency, less cost and a more comfortable experience.
  5. Absorbent surfaces for solar applications, like the innovative TiNOX® – a blue absorbent surface that increase the efficiency of the solar collector and reduces the loss of solar radiation – and, especially, TiNOX® outdoor the first highly selective aluminium absorber surface which can be installed outdoors without any additional transparent cover. TiNOX®  outdoor can be used, for example, to cover facades of industrial warehouses to generate heat and energy for heat pumps and ventilation.
  6. Reflective surfaces that can boost UV radiation in medical, forensic and sanitisation applications.

With an extensive catalogue of surfaces optimised for specific applications and an extensive network of partners (including in the field of academic research), Almeco’s experts are always working to extend the fields of application of aluminium and make the most of the benefits offered by this metal.

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